Prem Shankar Jha

kashmir

Security forces in Kashmir during the violence in Srinagar following the killing of Burhan Wani. Credit: PTI

 

When I read that Burhan Wani, the iconic leader of the new militancy in South Kashmir, had been killed, I should have felt at least a twinge of relief. Instead all I felt was overwhelming pity for his family and despair for my country. For his death has not brought peace nearer in Kashmir, any more than the killing of Osama bin Laden has ended the threat from Al Qaeda, or brought peace to the Middle East.

Instead, as the eruption of rage after Wani’s death shows, it has only deepened the estrangement between Kashmir and the rest of India, and brought the moment closer when, if this killing goes on, insane rage will grip the youth of that benighted paradise once more and plunge it towards its own, and perhaps India’s, destruction.

Every titbit of information that has surfaced suggests that the encounter, if not the actual killing, was choreographed. Despite the extraordinary precautions that Wani had taken to make his group in South Kashmir difficult to infiltrate, the Kashmir police had succeeded in doing so. It knew that news of his death would set Kashmir on fire, so it chose a day of the week, a time of the year and, if reports are to be believed, a time of day that would minimise the impact of his death on the people.

But these tactics did not work and Kashmir is now perceptibly closer to the tipping point than ever before. So why is the government persisting with a counter terrorism strategy that, it must know, will only make things worse?

It was not as if it had no other options. Wani was only 22 when his life ended. Although he had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen seven years ago, he had not committed any truly heinous crimes. The Kashmir police had registered four serious cases against him, two of firing upon and injuring sarpanches, and two others of firing upon the police and the Rashtriya Rifles.

None of these had resulted in a death. So why was it so necessary to kill him? Why was no attempt ever made to persuade him to give up violence and pursue his goals peacefully? That is what governor Girish Chandra Saxena’s administration had succeeded in doing with Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah and the militants of the 1990s. Why did no one even try?

The answer is that in the early ‘90s it was the militants who were on the offensive. The Indian state had resorted to violence with reluctance. Apart from defending themselves, the security forces used force mainly to protect civilians involved in the administration of the state, political cadres of mainstream parties and government buildings and facilities. Force was also used to underline the futility of challenging the writ of the state, but the goal was always to use a mixture of force and persuasion to make the separatists eschew violence in favour of negotiation and accommodation.

Vajpayee’s strategy

This strategy came close to success in 2002 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee rammed through a free and fair election over the strenuous objections of then Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, facilitated the formation of a government that the Kashmiris did not consider a tool of New Delhi and launched a visionary initiative to settle the Kashmir dispute with President Musharraf of Pakistan.

The process continued with Manmohan Singh and a high point was April 5, 2005 when the first buses between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad crossed the Jhelum at Kaman post on the cease-fire line after a lapse of 40 years. Men, women and children lined the road to Srinagar dressed in their best clothes and greeted the bus form Muzaffarabad with flowers and song. It was a spontaneous outpouring of joy, such as Kashmir had not witnessed in a quarter of a century.

But the healing process that began then ended abruptly with the UPA government’s crackdown and return to police raj after the Amarnath land scam, and the BJP’s blockade of the Srinagar-Jammu highway in 2008.

That ‘crackdown’ began the return to the nightmare days of the early ‘90s. When, inspite of it, there was an unexpectedly high turnout in the valley in the December 2008 elections, Delhi seized this to claim that militancy had ended; all that was left to do was mop up its remnants and seal the border to keep infiltrators out of the valley.

That unfortunate boast ended Delhi’s dialogue with the Hurriyat. Throughout his second term in office, Manmohan Singh did not meet its leaders even once. This left capturing or killing ‘terrorists’ the only way to mop up the disaffection that remained. The task was delegated to the Kashmir police.

The resurgence of militancy today can be traced back directly to this self-serving deceit. To obtain information the police use the only methods it is familiar with: round up all known suspects and apply third degree methods to sweat information out of them. In the last six years this has turned the Kashmir police into a terror machine.

Loss of civic rights

Credit: Sunandita Mehrotra

Credit: Sunandita Mehrotra

All those who get onto its charge sheets, be it as a militant, a stone pelter or an agitator, immediately lose their civic rights. From then on they are liable to be  summoned to the police station at any time of the day or night and insulted, humiliated, tortured or beaten up, at the will of the station house officer. This has turned life into an uncertain hell not only for them but also their families, who face suspicion and ostracism once they begin to receive visits from the police.

One way out is to become an informer. The other is to become a militant. Wani chose the latter. There was nothing in his family background that had predisposed him to rebellion. His father was the principal of a secondary school, his elder brother had been studying for his PhD in economics when he was killed by the police last year. Burhan was 15 when he and his brother were stopped, abused and humiliated by the police while on a joyride with a friend who was testing out a new motorcycle. Whatever happened then was sufficiently humiliating to turn him into a militant and bring him onto the police’s history sheets.

By the time he was killed, Wani had become the single most potent threat to the Indian state in Kashmir. But the threat he posed was ideological. By the yardsticks of the ’90s, his movement was still tiny and the wounds it had inflicted on the Indian state were no more than pinpricks. What made him a threat was his capacity to inspire. For there was a ‘purity’ in his revolt that the movements of the ‘90s had lost long ago. He had never crossed the border into Pakistan; he was not motivated by religious ideology, he did not want to join Pakistan and he was not in anyone’s pay. His was an apolitical revolt born out of pure rejection: he represented a Kashmiri nationalism that simply wanted to cut its links with India and become free to be itself.

But it was precisely these qualities that made it worth the government’s while to open a channel of communication with him with a view to restarting the search for a political settlement. Killing him was therefore the most self defeating thing the Indian state could have done.

If the government does not want Kashmir to spin out of control once more, it must stop the killing now. The first step would be to declare a unilateral cease-fire, wipe the police’s history sheets clean and give all those on it a respite from fear. The second would be to give full support to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti in her efforts to heal the wounds inflicted on the Kashmiri psyche. The third would be to equip the police to deal with stone pelters and others without using lethal force, inspite of every provocation to do so.

Only if these steps bring back peace will the government be able to look for ways to bring Kashmiri nationalists back to the negotiating table once more. The door to this room has been shut for so long that there is no way of knowing whether it can be opened again. But that does not exempt the government from the need to try.

Prem Shankar Jha is a senior journalist and author of Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos and War and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, Can China and India dominate the west?
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Government initiatives will help shrink the public support for armed militancy, and pressurise the militants to lay down their arms and return to normal life.

Srinagar: Youths throw stones and water bottles on police at the venue as violent clashes erupted during the first ever International Kashmir half-Marathon at Kashmir University Campus in Srinagar on Sunday. PTI Photo by S Irfan(PTI9_13_2015_000085A)

Srinagar: Youths throw stones and water bottles on police at the venue as violent clashes erupted during the first ever International Kashmir half-Marathon at Kashmir University Campus in Srinagar on Sunday. PTI Photo by S Irfan(PTI9_13_2015_000085A)

In the past three months Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made two overtures to Pakistan, leaving little room for doubt that he wants to reverse the deterioration in bilateral relations. First he “dropped by” Lahore to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his way back from Kabul, Afghanistan, in December. The second was his telephone call to Sharif wishing the Pakistan team good luck in the World Cup match at Calcutta.

Pakistan has responded by providing intelligence on the Pathankot terrorist attack and warning India of a possible terrorist attack on the Somnath temple in Gujarat, which the government was able to foil.  But how will the countries build upon these initiatives if the situation in Kashmir continues to worsen at the rate it is doing today?

Kashmir appears to be moving in a different direction at present. With the continued reluctance of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti to form a government and the BJP’s inability to do so, Jammu and Kashmir has been left without a representative government. Meanwhile, the slow burning anger that has been growing in south Kashmir is approaching a boiling point.

South Kashmir on the boil

In the past two months every killing of a militant in south Kashmir has been followed by shutdowns of business and funeral processions that have grown ever larger, followed by ugly confrontations with the police and paramilitary forces. The first two months of the year saw 20 days of shutdowns in the the Pulwama, Kulgam and Anantnag districts. Besides, the intervention of civilians to foil the armed forces in their fight against the militants has led to the injury and deaths of several civilians, and a further rise in public anger.

The security agencies in Delhi and Srinagar are, as usual, blaming Pakistan: unable to send terrorists across the Line of Control (LOC), they claim Pakistan is training local youth to carry out violent acts within Kashmir itself. This explanation is self-serving, to say the least, as it is entirely possible that Pakistan is not sending infiltrators into India simply because it no longer needs to. But such an explanation also evades the real questions: why are the youth in south Kashmir, a PDP stronghold for 15 years, taking to armed insurgency again? And why is popular support for insurgency growing in an area where there was virtually none before?

The answers lie in Delhi’s failure to understand the causes of the Kashmiri insurgency and thus its inability to end the conflict despite many opportunities. The failure has risen out of a belief embedded in the psyche of most Indians – as Muslims, Kashmiris find it hard to resist the blandishments of Pakistan. This was and continues to be very far from the truth.

Denial of political space

The insurgency in the 1990s was born not out of religious separatism, but a complete denial of room for democratic dissent in the valley after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953.  From 1957 till 1972, every election in the valley was rigged to ensure a sweeping National Conference victory.

As Pakistan found out in 1965 when its infiltrators found no support in the valley, the National Conference’s victories were not altogether unpopular as the party’s main purpose was to ensure the domination of the valley over the politics of the entire state. But as a consequence, two successive generations of Kashmiri youth were denied the political space in which to express their growing frustration and anger with an increasingly corrupt and predatory state government that was being backed uncritically by Delhi.

In 1987, when the National Conference entered into an electoral alliance with the Congress, the Muslim United Front (MUF) emerged as a political voice for the youth. But when the MUF was denied a reasonable presence in the state assembly through vote manipulation, a large section of the youth became convinced that they would never be allowed to secure the right to dissent, let alone govern, through the Indian democratic system. This led them into the arms of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and thus, Pakistan.

Although initially sheltered and armed by Pakistan, the JKLF’s goal was Kashmiri independence and not a merger with Pakistan. Its leaders knew that neither Ladakh nor Jammu would go along with secession. Had religion been their main driving force, JKLF leaders could have espoused the Dixon Plan, proposed by the British in 1947, to hand over the Kashmir valley to Pakistan. But not once in the 39 years of its existence has the JKLF advocated this “solution”.

On the contrary the JKLF has consistently demanded azadi (freedom) for Kashmir as it had existed before 1947, in the full knowledge that this would increase its heterogeneity and drag it further away from a purely religious identity. Over the years the Hurriyat conference, with the sole exception of Ali Shah Geelani, has also come around to a similar position.

In hindsight it is clear that no matter what they professed in public, what the militants wanted in the 1990s was to be the architects of a peace settlement along the lines of the Framework Agreement signed by General Musharraf and Manmohan Singh in 2005.

It is not surprising then that between the Islamabad declaration of 2004 and the attempted Amarnath land scam in 2008, domestic militancy all but died out in Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad repeatedly sent terrorists across the LOC, but lacking local support they were soon rounded up or killed. For this four-year period, Kashmiris lived in the expectation that a lasting peace was around the corner.

State crackdown

That hope has since died. The UPA’s ill-advised crackdown in the valley in August 2008, the deaths of more than a hundred stone pelters in 2010 and the hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013 convinced Kashmiris that a harder, more merciless Indian State had emerged over the years.

Paradoxically, this new State was a product of the unexpectedly high turnout in the valley in the assembly elections in December 2008; it enabled the architects of the crackdown to trumpet that the Kashmiri militancy had ended, that the Hurriyat and other separatists had never enjoyed significant support, and that what the Kashmiris really wanted was jobs and a better future.

The corollary of this was that there was no more need for a political dialogue with the ‘separatists’. As a result, the dialogue between government and the Hurriyat, which had been an important part of the peace process till then, came to an end. On the ground in Kashmir this erased the distinction between crime and political violence. All subsequent militant attacks became criminal acts to be dealt with by the police with the help, where necessary, of the paramilitary forces.

Police methods invariably include the interrogation of all those whom they consider likely to have information that will lead to the arrest of the “criminals.” Treating the nationalist movement in the Kashmir valley as a law and order problem thus made the nearly 31,000 militants who remained on the police’s history sheets and the thousands of stone pelters who were added to their number after 2010, the prime targets for interrogation.

For them, and their families, life became an uncertain, nerve-wracking hell. Add to this the never-ending trickle of deaths of local Kashmiri youth in encounters and crossfires, and one begins to understand the mixture of anger, despair and desire for revenge out of which the new militancy in south Kashmir has been born and is gathering support.

Reviving hope

Unlike the militants of the 1990s, the current crop of militants in south Kashmir have no political agenda, because they have no hope. They know from the experience of their predecessors that Pakistan will help, perhaps even provide shelter, but will ultimately enslave them. And the pointless, brutal hanging of Guru has shown them that there is no mercy in the Indian State. Their only desire now is to hit the Indian State repeatedly and invite retaliation that will rekindle a general uprising again as it did in the 1990s.

So far their tactics have met with unqualified success. The disaffection in south Kashmir today is not far short of what it was in Srinagar and north Kashmir in the 1990s. If Delhi continues to deal with it through repressive police measures alone, the tension and anger that is building up will inevitably boil over into a more general uprising. The only way to reverse this spiral is to rekindle the militants’ desire for peace, their desire to live. But so great is the accumulation of anger and mistrust that weaning them, and the tens of thousands who are openly supporting them, away from violence will not be easy.

The starting point should be for Delhi to recognise and concede publicly that the struggle in Kashmir needs to be dealt with through negotiation and accommodation, not through repression. To do this the Modi government could take a page from Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s book and declare a unilateral cessation of anti-terrorist action by security forces, coupling this with the offer of a general amnesty to all those who forsake armed struggle, and restart a political dialogue with the Hurriyat and back-channel talks with Pakistan on Kashmir.

Such initiatives will gain credibility if it is accompanied by a promise to repeal the Public Safety Act that gives the Kashmir police its extraordinary powers, and limit the scope of AFSPA as peace is restored. These initiatives may not lead to an immediate cessation of violence in south Kashmir as Pakistan may continue to stir the pot to strengthen its hands in negotiations with India. But if the government persists with these initiatives, it will shrink the base of public support for armed militancy that is building up in south Kashmir, and pressurise the new militants to lay down their arms and return to normal life once again.

Prem Shankar Jha is the Managing Editor of Financial World and a senior journalist.

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Last month’s election in Jammu and Kashmir gave a ‘hung verdict’ of a new kind: most of the seats in Jammu ( 25 ) went to the BJP, But most of the seats in Kashmir (28)went to Mufti Sayeed’s mildly nationalist Peoples’ Democratic party. Thus neither party could form a government on its own in the 87 member state assembly.  This verdict brought to a head a struggle for power between the two main parts of this heterogeneous state whose roots go back  500 years. The split verdict has created both a crisis and an opportunity.  The article reproduced below, which  appeared in the Indian Express on December 31, 2014  examines its roots and what is at stake in the State. 

 

The election results  in Jammu and Kashmir have brought to the forefront an issue that has dogged Kashmir’s relations with the rest of India ever since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It is, ‘which part of the state will  dominate policy-making —Jammu or Kashmir?

In the hundred years before Independence , it was the Dogras from Jammu. Prior to that , while Jammu was squarely a part of the Mughal and later Sikh empires, Kashmir had been  ruled for more than five hundred years by a succession of invaders, ranging from Afghans to Sikhs.

In 1947, therefore, the feeling of  disempowerment was far more acute in Kashmir than in Jammu. It was assuaged only when Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference came to power in 1947.  Sheikh Abdullah’s 1945  war cry of ‘Down with Dogra rule’ was not a repudiation of ‘Hindu’ rule, but of domination by rulers from Jammu. The National conference, and indeed the Sheikh’s, endorsement of the Maharaja’s accession to India was wildly popular in the valley because it shifted the base of  power in the state from  Jammu to Kashmir. To the educated , politically sensitive sections of the Kashmir’s population, this was ‘independence’ after more than 500 years of enslavement.

The need to empower Kashmiris explains Sheikh Abdullah’s  lack of interest in recovering Gilgit, Skardu and “Azad’ Kashmir from Pakistan. He knew only too well that  this would  make Kashmir’s pre-eminance harder to sustain.

The roots of Abdullah’s growing disenchantment with India in the six years that followed Accession and his eventual, disastrous imprisonment, lay in Nehru’s failure to understand that waiting for Pakistan to vacate  POK before holding a plebiscite was endangering not only its outcome but also Kasmir valley ( and the NC’s) control over the state. He was privy to the fact that Pathans  made up only a fifth of the ‘Raiders’ from Pakistan and that  more than two-fifths  had come from POK. So had Nehru gone ahead with a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference would have been happy as clams because it would not only have fully legitimized the Accession in the part India controlled, but also   Kashmir’s domination of Jammu in Indian Kashmir.

The reason why the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s government  rigged every election in the valley from 1957 till 1972 was its need to maintain its dominance of the state in the face of declining popularity. The  suppression of dissent in the valley that this entailed led  to the uprising of 1990.

The insurgency, however, broke Kashmir’s hold over Jammu. In the ensuing decade Jammu’s politics became detached from those of Kashmir and became those of the mainland. This parting of the ways, first vividly demonstrated by Jammu’s blockade of Kashmir in July 2008,  reached its consummation this week.

Today  the polarization between Jammu and Kashmir is almost complete. This has confronted the PDP and BJP with an extraordinary  challenge, but also a unique opportunity. To its credit the PDP has been the first to realize that running a stable, functionally efficient and politically  equitable government will not be possible if the polarization is not reversed.  This requires  cooperation – preferably a coalition – between  the PDP and the BJP. But a coalition can only take shape if there is a broad agreement on the principles and goals of governance.

To the PDP the irreducible minimum is for the BJP to  respect Jammu and Kashmir’s ethnic and religious diversity, explicitly distance itself from communal polarization in Kashmir and other parts of India, and  avoid any attempt to change Kashmir’s special position within  the Indian constitution.

Since the BJP’s  main concern at the moment is to  capture the chief ministership, and  since Mufti Sayeed had shown in 2002 that he is not averse to sharing the chief ministership of the state, a deal is possible. But for this the BJP must agree to the basic principles of governance that Mufti has outlined.

This would have posed no problem for Mr  Vajpayee, but today’s BJP is a different party in all but name.  For Mr. Modi, therefore , stepping back from the programmes of communal polarization that the Sangh Parivar’s  hardliners have  let loose on the country, and resuming a constructive dialogue with Pakistan will be a supreme test of leadership.

It will also be a test of his sagacity. For Pakistan’s encounter with the most bestial face of has become a defining moment for its government and army. The Nawaz Sharif government has shed the last vestiges of its ambivalence towards Islamist terrorism, and declared an all-out war on it within Pakistan. It has lifted a six-year moratorium on the death sentence with the specific purpose of putting terrorists it held in its jails  to death.

Around  500 terrorists are likely to be executed in the next few weeks. It is also revising its criminal code to award harsh punishment to terrorists, and is setting up special military courts  for their  speedy trial.

This is part of a comprehensive strategy that is designed to cut off all the insurgents’ sources of income including donations to charities under whose rubric they received their funds. The government also intends to enact a ban on religious persecution and punish the abuse of the internet for  the glorification of terrorism and  organizations sponsoring it.

 

The trigger was undoubtedly the killing of 133 children  in a Peshawar school, but the demand to lift the moratorium had in fact been made by the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif,  before this barbaric attack. Thus although it has done so for its own reasons, Pakistan is on the point of meeting Mr Modi’s demand that it should stamp out  terrorism within its own country  in order to build lasting good relations with India.

In the coming two years Pakistan will need all the help—military and economic– it can get. India could provide some of it indirectly by enabling it to move its troops from the Indian to the Afghan border. This would go a long way towards healing the scars of Partition. But even if does not, India will still be much better off with a stable Pakistan that is no longer hosting  terrorists, than it is today.

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Contrary to a widely held belief in India, peace on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has always been relative. In 2011, when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there were 61 incidents of firing from the two sides of the border. There was a similar number in the first ten months of 2012. But the exchanges of fire in October this year have been qualitatively different. Not only have these seen the heaviest bombardments that villagers can remember, but most of it has been by India. In a single day, October 9, Indian forces fired more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistani Kashmir. This was preceded by a week of heavy firing from both sides that, by Indian estimates, has killed 35 civilians in POK and 20 in J&K, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

It has been different for three reasons: first, although it too may have started as a local exchange of fire in August, unlike the myriad exchanges of yesteryear it has not been allowed to remain local. Instead, in a manner disturbingly similar to the way the 150 year-old local dispute over the Babri masjid in Faizabad was politicized by the BJP in the 1980s, the Modi government has chosen to read a new aggressiveness in Nawaz Sharif’s government, born out of a change of policy towards India. Second, instead of relying on diplomacy to straighten things out, the Modi government has deliberately chosen coercion. Not only has India’s response to Pakistani firing been disproportionate, but the Modi government has not bothered to hide its desire to teach Pakistan a lesson. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses”, a senior Indian Home Ministry official told Reuters.” The Modi government has decisively closed the doors to a return to diplomacy. Not only will it not talk to Pakistan till it stops provoking India through its violations of the LoC, but it will not do so till Pakistan acknowledges that Kashmir is “an integral part of India”. Third: unlike the UPA and Vajpayee governments, Mr. Modi has not hesitated to make domestic political capital out of an aggressive response to Pakistan. At a pre-election political rally in Mumbai on October 9, he proclaimed “it is the enemy that is screaming …. the enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” “The Enemy”; note the choice of phrase. An aggressive a response to Pakistan would be justified if there was no doubt that it had opened unprovoked fire on Indian border posts first. But we have only our own government’s word for this. Pakistan has stoutly denied opening fire first and Islamabad has lied far more often and habitually than New Delhi. But the Indian media have treated South Block’s press releases as gospel without once publishing a Pakistani refutation. Most policy analysts too have looked only for reasons why Pakistan has changed its policy towards India, without considering that the mote might be in India’s eye. The weak link in the government’s construct is the absence of motive. The Modi government ascribes its new-found aggressiveness to its frustration over failing to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But it does not take a dispassionate observer even five minutes to see that Pakistan has never had as strong a reason to let sleeping dogs lie in Kashmir as it does today. For, under a succession of military governments it has been sowing the wind in its international relations for five decades, and is now about to reap the whirlwind.

In the next few months Pakistan’s army-backed democratic, and moderately Islamic, state is going to face a convergence of challenges to which it has no answer. In Afghanistan, as the last American combat troops prepare to pull out, the Taliban have begun to show their power. Not only do they dominate the countryside in southern and western Afghanistan but they have moved into the north and all but captured the province of Kunduz. The Americans have armed the Afghan national army with modern weapons but left it with an air force that consists of two C-130 transport planes, 80 helicopters and a nascent drone reconnaissance capability. This is far from sufficient to give the ANA the close air support it will need to fight the Taliban. The ANA itself is subject to some of the same tribal and sectarian rifts that have made a joke of the Iraqi army. There is thus the real danger of desertions, collapse and the acquisition of modern American arms by the Taliban The future of the new Afghan government is therefore in considerable doubt. Had this been 2010 there would have been some reason to believe that Pakistan would welcome these developments, for at that time the former chief of the Pak army, Gen. Kayani, had harboured visions of controlling Afghanistan through the Taliban. But those days are far behind us. The Taliban are split; Mullah Omar’s influence has waned, and the link between Pakistan and the Haqqani Taliban has been eroded by incessant US drone attacks upon the latter. Finally, whatever Imran Khan may say, the Pakistan army harbours no illusion that a deal with the FATA-based TTP is possible. General Raheel Sharif is no friend of India, but knowing the bestial cruelty with which the TTP has treated captured Pakistani soldiers, he is adamant that it has to be fought and eradicated. To pursue this fight he has already shifted more than 150,000 soldiers, almost a third of his regular army, from the Indian border to FATA, and may have to shift more. He is also rapidly de-mechanising infantry divisions that had been mechanized only a few years ago in the belief that India was Pakistan’s main enemy. If the Taliban seize eastern Afghanistan the TTP will have an endless sanctuary from which to attack the Pakistan army. Pakistan therefore faces the prospect of a war without end. Worst of all, it will have to fight this war without resources, for the US has already indicated that its aid will be tapered off after it leaves Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, the only other country that has come to its financial aid in the past, has made it crystal clear that future aid will be conditional on its making peace with the TTP.

The difference between Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA and Modi’s BJP is that Dr Singh foresaw Pakistan’s impending crisis and knew that it would create a unique opportunity for the two countries to bury the poisoned legacy of Partition and make a new start towards lasting peace and amity. Dr Singh also knew that the Pakistani State was too weak respond to its own crisis in a coherent manner and would need a lot of forbearance from India. But the BJP seized upon his forbearance and projected it as cowardice and weakness. Today it has made India a prisoner of its own hawkish past.

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AN INEPT GOVERNMENT

From the moment news broke that the Modi government had cancelled the foreign secretaries’ talks scheduled for August 25, the Indian media have been accusing Pakistan of sabotaging the talks by scheduling meetings between the Hurriyat and its high commissioner in Delhi and refusing to heed a plea from the Indian foreign secretary to postpone these till after the talks.

The truth is a little more complicated. Delhi has known that Basit telephoned the Hurriyat leaders to come to Delhi not at the last minute but on August 10. According to Greater Kashmir (August 13) Islamabad wanted was an update from them on developments in the valley for the meeting in Islamabad. Such consultations had become routine after India and Pakistan began to talk peace bilaterally, in earnest. The Pakistan High Commissioner himself spoke openly about it at a social gathering just two days earlier.

The volte face on Monday August 18 therefore came not from Pakistan but India. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh made her request only hours before Basit’s first scheduled meeting, when the Hurriyat leaders were already in Delhi. This made it impossible for Islamabad to accede to it. Nawaz Sharif had already been roundly criticized at home for not meeting the Hurriyat when he came to Delhi for Modi’s inauguration. Acceding to such a peremptory last minute demand when he was besieged at home by Imran Khan and the Canada–based Barelvi preacher, Tahir-ul Qadri, would have been political suicide.

Mr. Modi now has two options: to reject everything that the Vajpayee and Singh governments achieved in the past eleven years and go back to square one, or gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of Indo-Pak relations, and make a fresh start with Kashmir and Pakistan in the near future. The first step on the latter road is to acknowledge that he is not the sole patriot, or indeed the sole custodian of India’s national interest. In January 2005, when Musharraf sent his prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, to New Delhi and Hurriyat flocked to the capital to meet him Dr. Manmohan Singh faced the same dilemma but adopted a very different course of action.
Through an intermediary, he tried to persuade them to observe diplomatic protocol by asking to meet him first, before they met Aziz. Since Dr. Singh had met the Hurriyat leaders through me three years earlier, he asked me to be the intermediary. I spent the entire day urging, cajoling and eventually warning the Mirwaiz, Butt and Bilal Lone that they would irretrievably turn the PMO against them if they insulted not only Dr. Singh but the Indian State. But they refused to budge. Only in the late afternoon did Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Butt explain why: “If we do this”, he told me bluntly, “we will be killed”.

To anyone not familiar with Kashmir’s tragic history this would have sounded like self-expiating melodrama. But Butt’s confession took the wind out of my sails. For beginning with the assassination of Mirwaiz Umar Farouq’s father Maulvi Farouq on May 21, 1990 (three weeks after he gave an interview to BBC outlining requirements for a return to peace) and ending with the assassination of Abdul Ghani Lone exactly 12 years later, each and every Kashmiri nationalist leader who dared to discuss, or even consider, a solution within the Indian union, had been assassinated by agents of the ISI. The ISI had, in fact administered its most recent punishment for disobedience only eight months earlier when it arranged the assassination of Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmad, the Mirwaiz’s uncle, and torched his family’s 100 year old school in Srinagar, when he did not succumb to its threats and met deputy Prime Minister Advani on February 2, 2004, for a second round of talks on Kashmir.

Butt’s own brother had been killed by the same agencies in 1996, so his and Hurriyat’s fear was understandable. Despite that, by refusing to meet Dr. Manmohan Singh first, they burned their bridges with NSA Narayanan and, as subsequent events have shown, hastened their descent into irrelevance. But Dr. Singh did not prevent the meeting with Aziz. He allowed Hurriyat leaders to interact freely with Pakistani decision makers in Delhi and Islamabad, and kept his doors open for them. By doing that he kept the Kashmiris a part of the decision-making process and brought India and Pakistan within a whisker of resolving the Kashmir dispute in 2007 before the judges crisis fatally weakened Musharraf.

Monday’s action may make the BJP look tough, but it has severely hurt India’s long term interests. It has revoked the commitment previous governments, including Vajpayee’s, made to keep Kashmiris within the decision-making process. And it has sealed the doom of Hurriyat and all ‘separatists’ who had tacitly or accepted the Manmohan-Musharraf formula for peace. Modi has damaged even the so-called mainstream parties, for the anger he has provoked in the valley will make the boycott of the coming state election far more effective. The PDP, which brought Kashmir close to the end of militancy in 2008, will be the main sufferer.

In the longer run, the weakening of both the mainstream and the Hurriyat will leave the field open for the final fight – between the real separatists who are the Ahl-e Hadis and the radicalized youth of Srinagar, and the Indian State.

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In a few days the 16th Lok Sabha will be prorogued and the UPA’s – basically the Congress’ – ten year reign will come to an end. With that will end the most tragic period in independent India’s history. Tragic not because any catastrophe has befallen the nation, but because during this period Indians got a brief glimpse of affluence, a brief taste of global respect, and a brief view of a more secure future, only to have all three snatched away from before it ended.

This is not India’s first lost decade. There was another between 1965 and 1974. But that was triggered by events outside the government’s control – two successive droughts in 1965 and 1966 and two wars in 1962 and 1965. The Indira Gandhi government’s response deepened the economic crisis these caused and slowed down growth even further, but it was not responsible its onset.

In sharp contrast, most of the wounds of the past decade have been self–inflicted. In 2004 Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government bequeathed to the UPA a country whose economy had just recovered from a five year recession and recorded an 8.1 percent rate of growth in 2003-4, the highest the country had known. It had demonstrated India’s nuclear weapons capability, weathered the storm of sanctions the world had unleashed upon it, forced the US into its first serious dialogue with India, and made it rethink its policies towards Pakistan and Kashmir.

It had pushed through Kashmir’s first truly free and fair election in 2003, in the teeth of universal scepticism, a Hurriyat boycott, and determined opposition by the National Conference, and shown Kashmiris that they could make Indian democracy work for them. It had decisively won the Kargil war and, two years later forced Pakistan to reconsider and all-but-abandon its proxy war, using ‘non-state actors’, against India. It had then held out a hand of friendship to Pakistan in 2003, symbolically from Srinagar.

It had signed the Islamabad agreement with President Musharraf in January 2004, brought lasting peace on the LOC in Kashmir and begun the detente that led to the almost consummated Manmohan-Musharraf Delhi Agreement on Kashmir in 2005.

In the realm of economic policy it passed the Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management Act and reduced the Centre’s fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent of the GDP before handing over to the UPA. It halved interest rates between 2000 and 2003 and set off the boom in the stock market that continued, almost without interruption, till January 2008.

All that the UPA had to do, when it came to power was build upon the foundation that Vajpayee and the NDA had built. It began well, but then gradually allowed everything to fall to pieces.

In its relations with Pakistan, it dragged its heels over negotiating the details of the four point plan for settling the Kashmir dispute, ignoring warnings that Musharraf was losing power within his own country, till the Judges crisis took power out of his hands altogether. It also came close to settling decades long disputes with Bangladesh over the Ganges basin waters and the demarcation of the border, but then failed to live up to key commitments, leaving Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government vulnerable to attacks from the BNP and the Jamaat-i-Islami.

It persuaded the Maoists in Nepal to rejoin the mainstream of democratic politics but inexplicably withdrew its support from them just when their moderate, pro-India, leader Prachanda needed it most.

In 2013, when Prime minister Manmohan Singh pulled out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo, he humiliated the Sri Lankan President Rajapakse and severely damaged a relationship with Sri Lanka that had taken more than a decade to rebuild after the IPKF debacle. In order to appease Tamil nationalist sentiment in Tamil Nadu, he threw away the considerable capacity India had built for influencing Colombo’s policy towards its Tamil minority.

India’s two year tenure of a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council was perhaps the most undistinguished of any in the post cold war period. Its hallmark was an unending search for ways to avoid taking a stand on key international issues that would offend the US, Europe, and the Islamist sheikhdoms of the Arab world. At a time when these countries were launching unprovoked wars upon sovereign members of the United Nations and thereby destroying every pillar of the UN charter upon which a multi-polar world order could be built, India never once voted against them. Instead it abstained in the Security Council as they planned their assaults upon Libya and Syria, and voted with them on non-binding general assembly resolutions to show that they did not need to take its abstentions in the Security Council seriously. It justified this to itself by claiming that it was taking a ‘balanced’ position when balance was the last thing that a world headed for chaos needed from a large, rapidly growing and uncommitted middle power.

Within the country it came within a hairsbreadth of ending the deep alienation in Kashmir, but then took a series of decisions, starting with the crackdown upon Kashmir in August 2008 and ending with the surreptitious hanging of Afzal Guru, that made it infinitely deeper. As if that was not enough, after having made a catastrophic mistake in promising separate statehood to Telengana, it did not have the courage to admit it, and rammed the division of Andhra through the Lok Sabha after throwing its opponents out of the house in the last days of its last session when it had already become a lame duck government.

But none of these failures has come close to matching its ruin of the economy. In 2004, the Congress inherited a nation was growing at more than 8 percent. Today that growth rate has slipped well below 5 percent. Industrial output grew by 8.4 percent in 2004-5 and rose to 13 percent in 2006-7. In April to December 2013 it contracted by 0.1 percent. Non –agricultural employment has been the main casualty. According to the 66th round of the National Sample Survey, this grew by more than 37 million between 2004 and 2009. A partially overlapping set of data collected by the ministry of Industry shows that between April 2008 and March 2013 it rose by only 2.3 million. This suggests that more than 30 million job-seekers failed to find jobs. Another, more recent, survey by the NSO has shown that rural womens’ employment has also fallen by 9.1 million.

Indian industry has taken a terrible beating. Relentlessly high interest rates have ensured that there has not been one IPO (Initial Public Offer) of shares in the last four years. Instead large industrial houses have been moving their investment in what a Singapore based industrial consultant described as ‘a Lemming–like rush’ to Indonesia, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere.

India’s road, rail and power infrastructure remains as starved of investment as it was a decade ago. Today not only are its bottlenecks even more forbidding to foreign investors than they were in the 1990s, but these have become the biggest hurdle to the diversification of agriculture out of cereals into high value fruit and vegetable crops. A simultaneous liberalisation of exports of the latter, under the mistaken impression that the free market cures all evils, has fed food price inflation and kept the cost of living index rising by more than ten percent a year for the past four years. This combination of joblessness and a relentless, supply side, inflation has created the mounting sense of insecurity that has proved the Congress’ undoing.

All this has happened not because the government was corrupt, or short-sighted, or sold out to the industrialists, but because of weakness and ineptitude. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in its attempt to achieve ‘inclusive development’. In the last decade it has quadrupled the annual expenditure on rural development and social welfare. There are now more than 80 schemes under which the rural poor have a right to the largesse of the State. But India has slipped down three places in the UN’s Human Development index.

Within the nation the balance of power between centre and states has tilted so far towards the latter that India is beginning to look dangerously like it did under the later Mughals. The UPA has enacted statutes on tribal welfare and land acquisition that predators in the state governments have contemptuously ignored or circumvented. It has enacted Rights to Food, Education and Employment that have built a permanent deficit into the central budget and will bankrupt the treasury.

It has set the dangerous precedent of allowing Mamta Bannerjee, a state chief minister, not only to sack a central minister but also choose his successor. As if that were not enough it has allowed her to veto an international agreement with Bangladesh over the sharing of the waters of the Teesta river. Today, as the Coalgate scam showed, there is hardly a central subject left on which the centre feels it can act without first securing the assent of the states.

The Congress is not solely responsible for this all-round deterioration. In India’s relations with its Pakistan, for instance, the weakness of governments in Islamabad is at least as much to blame. In an era of coalition governments it is also a moot point how far any central government could have kept the states in check. But there is one common thread that runs through all the changes described above for which the Congress party is solely to blame. This is a lack of statesmanship, and of decisive leadership, at the epicentre of government. This has given India a dysfunctional government.

In the last two years it has become fashionable to say that UPA-1 ruled well and to heap all the blame for its ineptitude after 2009 upon the prime minister, but the real damage was done when Mrs Sonia Gandhi led the Congress to victory in 2004, but then created a dyarchy by refusing to become the prime minister and appointing Dr Manmohan Singh in her place. Although she did this with the best of intentions the confusion it created in decision-making sowed the seeds of the ineptitude that has virtually paralysed the government in recent years.

This has made the last decade one of good intentions betrayed by sloppy implementation and oversight; of promising starts seldom carried to fruition, of opportunities missed and challenges ignored. In 2008 the Congress party almost buckled under the pressure of its ally, the Left Front, and decided to let go of the Indo-US nuclear deal rather than risk its withdrawal of support. Only late in the year, when President George W Bush’s tenure was about to end, did it muster up the courage to call the Left Front’s bluff. By then it was almost too late to get the 44-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to accept the deal. It was only Bush’s tireless calling in of favours that made the NSG lift its embargo on the supply of dual use technology to India.

At the BRICS’ Delhi meeting in 2012 India joined Russia and China in strongly criticising NATO’s intervention in Libya and Syria, but failed to vote with them in the Security council. In the same year Delhi could not prevent Dinesh Trivedi from resigning as railways minister when Mamta ordered him to do so, but it could have made it clear to her that it would cost the Trinamool Congress a seat in the cabinet.

In September 2012, when RBI governor Subba Rao refused to heed finance minister P Chidambaram’s agonised pleas to lower interest rates after he had effected cuts in subsidies that would reduce the central and state deficits by around Rs 100,000 crores in a full year, the prime minister should have sided with his finance minister and forced the RBI to fulfil its tacit promise of July. Instead he did nothing and succeeded only in deepening the recession in industry.

In the end the decision-making vacuum at the Centre has consumed the Congress itself. Six years of relentless belt tightening, with only a small break at the onset of global recession, has given the poor neither growth nor price stability. It is their rage at being cheated of a future that the Congress has begun to feel today.

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A dozen of us — Kashmir watchers from Delhi and half a dozen journalists and social activists from Kashmir spent three days on the shore of the Nageen Lake in Srinagar and talked about Kashmir’s economic future.

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Nageen Lake and Akbar’s fort

There had been too much unrest; too much disruption of normal life, and we believed that Kashmiris wanted to make up for the time they had lost. So we tried to think out of the box. One result was they we met people who were doing real things, battling he odds, to make a living, to develop an industry, and from their experiences we drew conclusions. One very important conclusion was that few in Kashmir, or for that matter India , fully realised the potential for short-circuiting the excruciating process of development and creating a new model of affordable, eco-friendly, employment intensive development.

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On the way to Gogaldara

I have written up two of the ideas we came up with in the retreat. They can be found on my wiki.
Do tell me what you think of them.

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